Daily Archives: August 29, 2012

Berry bright future — Soldotna-area farmer pioneers haskap plants in Alaska

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Brian Olson, of Alaska Berries, inspects his haskap berry plants at his farm outside of Soldotna. Olson is pioneering cultivation and commercial uses of the berry in Alaska

Redoubt Reporter

“Everybody’s baby is the best-looking baby, but ours really is,” said Brian Olson, in typical proud-papa fashion.

Olson can rattle off a list of his progeny’s admirable qualities that would make any parent proud: Hardy, resilient, easygoing, productive and exceptionally healthy with ample prospects for an impressive future.

Then the list takes a turn for the less typical, clearly not referencing offspring of the human variety: fast-growing, thorn-free, easily pickable, delicious and having the potential to revolutionize the agricultural industry in Alaska.

That’s a big reputation for the little-heard-of berry Olson and his wife, Laurie, have been cultivating at their farm, Alaska Berries, on West Poppy Lane off Kalifornsky Beach Road. But from the six years Olson has been researching, propagating and growing the berry, Olson is absolutely certain every one of those qualities, and then some, are true.

“The experimental phase was 2008 and 2009,” Olson said. “By 2010 we knew we had an Alaska-

Olson’s variation of haskaps have their origins in Japan. He’s developing his own genetically distinct strain of the hardy, flavorful berry.

hardy, relatively disease-free and insect-free plant that was doing very well for us. And the flavor of the fruit was phenomenal. So we knew that we were on to something, that this is going to eventually surpass the blueberry in Alaska as far as a commercial crop goes. It is a super berry.”

Olson has been growing haskap berries, and recently announced his intention to trademark the genetic strains he’s developing, put them into commercial production and also sell the plants to his fellow Alaska agriculturists.

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Endeavor jack-up rig docked for a week — Buccaneer’s plans involve East End Road, Kenai Loop and units in Cook Inlet

By Naomi Klouda


Photo courtesy of Naomi Klouda, Homer Tribune. The Endeavour jack-up rig sits docked in Homer Harbor while work is done to prepare it for drilling duty in Cook Inlet.

Homer Tribune

The Buccaneer Energy jack-up rig arrived in Kachemak Bay on Friday afternoon, and will remain here through Aug. 31 to have work done preparing the rig for work in Cook Inlet.

The Endeavor jack-up rig’s legs are 410 feet, or as high as a 28-story building, forming a highly noticeable presence in the bay.

City Manager Walt Wrede was notified that the Endeavor would need moorage for six days while preparatory work is being completed. It was to be moored to the Deep Water Dock on Monday night.

“It will be riding in on a large transport ship and then floated in the bay. The rig, when floated, will essentially be a barge,” Wrede said.  “It will be on top of a big transport vessel, then on Saturday morning, they will float it. It will be interesting to watch. What they do is the transport vessel sinks, and all you see is the wheelhouse. Then three tugs will pull the drill rig off the transport vessel.”

At the Deep Water Dock, Buccaneer will do retrofitting, electrical and plumbing work to get it ready for drilling.

“This will mean work for the marine trades folks here in Homer. Then they will tow it to Cook Inlet to its first drilling site,” Wrede said.

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Energizing ideas — Sen. Murkowski highlights Alaska’s challenges, possibilities in state tour with visiting senators

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, head out from the Kenai Municipal Airport on Monday after a tour of Cook Inlet oil and gas facilities.

Redoubt Reporter

Even when coming from other energy-producing states, it’s good for lawmakers to get a firsthand look at Alaska and the unique challenges and opportunities it has for energy production, said Sen. Lisa Murowski, R-Alaska, while playing host and tour guide to senators from North Dakota, Louisiana and Oregon in recent weeks.

“Particularly for people that are in policy-making positions, they need to understand that their knowledge base might not necessarily translate to what actually happens here,” Murkowski said, referencing visits from Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana. “Both of them, I think, would tell you, ‘I am an energy senator. I know and I understand it.’ But when they come up here and see what it is that we deal with, how we operate here, what some of the confines and challenges are, they’re like, ‘Wow. I didn’t understand it,’ because they have made certain assumptions that they know what it’s like because they have oil and gas exploration and production. And I think it’s important to recognize that it is different here and to figure out how you ensure that a state like ours can have the same advantages and the same benefits that a state like North Dakota or Louisiana can.”

Murkowski has been making a tour of the state since Aug. 10, including stops on the North Slope to check in on Shell Oil’s proposed offshore development, and a visit with Sen. Hoeven to ConocoPhillips’ Alpine Oil Field.

“We’re always looking over our shoulder at North Dakota now because they’ve taken over in terms of their production. It was really interesting having him there because I somehow or another assumed, because he came from an energy-producing state that he would understand Alaska’s situation,” Murkowski said.

However, North Dakota has less than 3 percent of its land owned by the federal government.

“He’s looking at this very small pad — one of the concerns that they have is there’s no place for storage of any kind,” Murkowski said. “And he says, ‘Well, why don’t you just expand your pad?’ And you say, ‘Well, that’s a little bit difficult.’ And he says, ‘Well, how come you don’t build some roads around here?’ And we kind of chuckle, but in North Dakota, that’s just not an issue. You want to access your resources, you build a road. You want to get from here to there, you build a bridge. You want a bigger storage pad, you build a bigger storage pad because you’re negotiating with either private individuals or the state. In Alaska we’re negotiating with the federal government, and we are not in a good, strong negotiating position.”

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Booming memorial — Fuller’s friends salute Cooper Landing gunsmith with muzzleloader and bull-shooting session

By Joseph Robertia

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Don Neal, of Anchorage, lines up a shot during the 24th annual Bill Fuller Memorial Muzzle-Loading Gathering in Cooper Landing on Saturday, while, in the foreground, Dennis Poss, of Sterling, waits his turn to fire.

Redoubt Reporter

Mike Gephardt stared down the long, octagonal barrel of his rifle to align his peep sight onto the silhouette of a Dall sheep 500 yards away and several hundred feet in elevation on the side of a mountain. The ram was a cast-iron cutout, rather than flesh and bone, but the target not being able to run didn’t make this shot much easier, particularly considering the firearm Gephardt had chosen to use.

This was no modern, bolt-action rifle outfitted with the latest scope to magnify his target and sight it in the finely calibrated crosshairs. Oh no. Gephardt was using a muzzleloader — a black powder gun favored by trappers, traders and explorers of the 1800s, rarely used nowadays by modern hunters.

Still, Gephardt wielded the firearm as if he had grown up hunting buffalo on the plains. His fingers moved across the double triggers, first setting the action with the rear trigger, so that the front one became a hair trigger.

Tripped with the lightest of touches, his thick, calloused finger had only begun to make contact with the front trigger when the rifle made a thunderous boom. It bucked backward while belching a huge cloud of white smoke from the muzzle, along with a lead ball flying at 1,150 feet per second.

Just as the sweet smell of gunpowder was tickling Gephardt’s nose, through his earmuffs a familiar

Mike Gephardt, of Cooper Landing, fires a Hawken replica built by Fuller. Black-powder rifles tend to belch much more gunsmoke than modern firearms when fired.

“ding” could still be heard. It was the sound of his lead bullet flattening out as it connected with the Dall sheep target, something Gephardt and the small group of fellow black-powder enthusiasts watching from behind him call “the bang and clang.”

“That was pretty good,” said Sterling resident Dennis Poss, although his lips — and the toothpick sticking out of them — barely moved as he grunted the accolade.

“Or, pretty lucky,” Gephardt said.

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KWJG radio silenced — General manager blames FCC fines for going off air

By Joseph Robertia

Photos courtesy of Doug Johnson. Bill Glynn, general manager of KWJG, mans the board at the station in Kasilof, now off the air pending payment of fines from the Federal Communications Commission.

Redoubt Reporter

The sharp crackle of static, that’s what now replaces the music and various educational and entertainment programs that used to resonate from the speakers when a radio on the central and southern Kenai Peninsula was dialed to 91.5 FM.

“We went off the air at 7:10 p.m. on August 12,” said Bill Glynn, president of Kasilof Public Broadcasting and general manager of KWJG in Kasilof, and sister station KMJG, in Homer. “And no one knows how long it will last.”

Started as a dream to provide the Kenai Peninsula with a commercial-free radio alternative, KWJG signed onto the air in September 1998, pumping a puny 45 watts of power. But it was enough power to be heard, and people starting listening. Within a year, the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., authorized a power increase to 1,000 watts, where it remained at until the stations’ final day roughly a week ago.

Wanting to not only be commercial free, but free of government influence, as well, KWJG has never accepted funding from any governmental entity. Instead, the station was supported entirely by listeners’ donations and underwriters. According to Glynn, that is where the problems arose that led to the station going off the air.

“It’s my belief that state-funded public radio doesn’t want us calling ourselves public radio, or competing with them for listeners, so pressure is being applied to squeeze us off the dial,” he said.

This “pressure,” as Glynn puts it, came in the way of numerous and thorough inspections by the FCC. He said that while no technical or operational issues were noted by the inspectors, KWJG was cited for numerous administrative infractions, many of which come with citations and fines.

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Margin of terror — Be smart about being safe: Things can go wrong even when doing things right

Editor’s Note: If the editor’s father happens to read this paper, he should probably put it down now and go see if a good episode of “M*A*S*H*” is on, as this might disclose some behaviors he probably doesn’t want to know about. Seriously, Dad, I’m sure Cpl. Klinger is up to something worth watching. Wait! Did you hear that? Sounds like a pipe is leaking. You’d better go check!

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Richard White, of San Diego, was killed by a grizzly bear in Denali National Park on Aug. 25. He was backpacking off the road near the Toklat River. He wasn’t carrying a gun or pepper spray. His camera was recovered and showed that he had been photographing a bear next to the river. The last few shots show the bear looking up from what appears to be a meal, looking straight at White, and heading toward him. Bloody evidence of a violent scene was found by other hikers later that afternoon. White was a regular hiker in the wilderness, had been to Denali before, was 49 years old, married and had a young daughter. The U.S. Park Service estimates White may have been 50 yards or less from the bear, far under the recommended 300-yard distance visitors are told to keep from bears. It’s the first fatal bear mauling in more than 90 years of the 6-million-acre park’s record.

I list these facts in random haphazardness, rather than trying to string them into a narrative that presumes to makes sense of White’s death. Attempting an explanation is mere speculation. No one knows what, exactly, happened. It’s easy to blame White — he shouldn’t have been so close, or he shouldn’t have lingered to take pictures, or he should have had a firearm or bear spray.

All those things are true, but whether changing any of those factors would have saved his life, no one will ever know. Sometimes in the wilderness of Alaska, bad things happen to people doing things as well as they possibly can. More often, bad things happen to people who make a slight error or have a temporary, minor-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things lapse of judgment. Most often of all, people demonstrate downright stupidity and escape the possible consequences completely unscathed, maybe not even realizing just how dumb they and their luck has been.

They go boating in glacial-fed waters without a life jacket. They set off for a hike in late afternoon without warm clothing, a first-aid kit or other supplies, without telling anyone where they’re going or when they expect to be back. They leave a stringer of fish on a riverbank in bear country and wade back out into the water for a few more casts.

And any number of other safety faux-pas scenarios that I guarantee any of us who have spent any time outside in Alaska have committed to one degree or another.

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Radio to the rescue — Ham operators establish link with world after earthquake

By Clark Fair

Photo courtesy of the Kenai Peninsula College Photo Archive. Al Hershberger on a Ham radio during the 1960s. Hershberger and Ed Back helped establish communication with the outside world via radio following the devastation of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.

Redoubt Reporter

In 1964, when amateur Ham radio operator Zilla Maile wanted a new, state-of-the-art radio, she knew the man to contact: Al Hershberger, owner of Hershberger’s Radio and TV store in Soldotna.

What Maile didn’t know was the important role that synchronicity and her new radio would play during one of the most memorable events in Alaska history.

Maile owned and operated The Yarn Shop, a storefront that had been built onto her home just across the playground from Soldotna Elementary School. (Her home, which she shared with her husband, Justin, and their son, Larry, also partly consisted of Soldotna’s original post office.) In one section of the house were three small rooms — Larry’s bedroom, a guest room and Zilla’s radio room.

Larry called his mother “sort of a hobbyist” in the radio world. “When we were kids, she used to spend evenings in her radio room talking to people across the country,” he said. “She also made contacts in Europe, but usually those only worked given specific weather conditions that allowed the signal to skip.”

In Zilla’s radio room was a 2-meter Heathkit used strictly for local communication, and an older radio that could communicate only through Morse code and was used when Maile had her Novice Class license. After she moved to the Advanced Class license, she desired a more sophisticated radio — thus the visit to Hershberger, a licensed dealer for Hallicrafters electronics.

One of the best Ham radios commercially available at that time was the Hallicrafters SR-150 Ham transceiver, a radio combining a transmitter and a receiver in a single unit. Maile put in an order with Hershberger and waited for her new radio to arrive.

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